With the final Interlull (© Arseblog) out of the way we can now focus on the race for the Premier League title and with a double helping of fixtures this week, things should really start to take shape.
The Merseyside derby gets us underway with the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday; given Everton’s wretched form in these games over recent years, Ronald Koeman is right in saying that the blue half are long overdue a win; it being six years since the Toffees beat their rivals from across Stanley Park. Whether they are able to get something out of the game will be dependent on them overcoming the mental block that seems to inhibit them in these clashes, especially at Anfield where they haven’t won since 1999 when Kevin Campbell (remember him?) inspired them to a single goal victory. With the two sides eyeing European football next season it may well be that the game turns out to be altogether cagier than recent affairs.
Manchester City face a season-defining week, travelling to the Emirates on Sunday afternoon in a game that both teams will be absolutely desperate to get something from, and then visiting Stamford Bridge to face leaders Chelsea; and it feels like anything but a return of six points would see them lose any slim hope they have of reining the leaders in, they may even find themselves in a fight for the top four; probably not exactly what the Etihad hierarchy had in mind when bringing in Pep Guardiola.
Beleaguered Arsenal face a challenging week of a slightly different nature, having lost four out of their last five league games, those who bother to turn up at the Emirates on Sunday will be hoping for something, anything(!), positive to lift the mood around the place and to give us all some glimmer of hope that things might start to get better; two more home defeats to Manchester City and West Ham and things will start to get really toxic. I will be going less in anticipation and more in routine, although I have to resist staying home to watch Die Klassieker from Holland instead, that kicks off just before I normally set off so Mrs Football Nerd will be in charge of keeping me informed of the drama as it unfolds.
With Ajax having dropped points at lowly Excelsior last time out, Feyenoord have a six point lead over their bitter rivals going into the game in Amsterdam; even with that cushion it feels very much for their own belief, not to mention that of their fans(!) they need to avoid defeat. If they were to do that then the impossible dream will be just that little bit closer.
Today of course marks the 16th anniversary of the passing of David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, every year the anniversary hits me hard as he was one of my football heroes growing up. For those that didn’t get to see Rocky play, he was a truly thrilling player that inspired this hugely enthusiastic, if nowhere near as talented(!), right winger, four and a half years his junior, to try some of the trickery that he demonstrated on a weekly basis. It wasn’t just his pace and dribbling that made him such an inspirational figure but his sheer grit, determination and commitment to the Arsenal cause. BT Sport in the UK are tomorrow evening screening a tribute programme which focuses on the friendship with another Arsenal legend who happened to grow up in in the same part of South London, Ian Wright; while I know I will be watching it through tear-filled eyes, we can only hope that it does justice to the memories that us Gooners of a certain vintage still cherish. In these times of unrest amongst Arsenal fans it, along with the planned tribute at the stadium on Sunday, may just provide a reminder of what it means to be a Gooner. As Rocky famously said, ‘Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.’